A different NBA All-Star game
Kobe Bryant to be honouredFriday, March 05, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
The 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star game was in jeopardy of not being played due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the league and players made a decision to proceed. However, like just about everything else, the 'All-Star Weekend' is going to be very different from those that have gone before.
Instead of a big weekend, the NBA's annual celebration of the game will take place on one night for the first time. On Sunday, March 7, the cream of the NBA crop will converge at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Hawks, and compete in both the All-Star Game and the usual 'skills' events.
The Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest (normally held on the Saturday of All-Star Weekend) will take place pre-game, while the Dunk Contest will be held at half-time. In addition, the league announced that they will honour Kobe Bryant during the All-Star Game by once again incorporating his jersey number (24) into the determination of the final target score.
A number of participating players (and Atlanta's mayor) have voiced their objections, mainly due to the risk of contracting the virus, but the one-day extravaganza will not be denied. To counter dissenting voices, the NBA has established additional measures to supplement the league's current health and safety protocols. These include private travel to and from Atlanta, the creation of a “mini bubble” environment within a single hotel for players and coaches, and enhanced polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
Additionally, for enhanced safety, there will be no fan activities, ticketed events or hospitality functions as part of the festivities. However, four guests will be allowed per person for All-Star participants and every attendee will be required to remain within the hotel during the weekend, except for activities at State Farm Arena.
A lot has been altered to facilitate the 70th installment of All-Star Weekend; however, one of the things that remains the same is the All-Star Captains picking their teams. That relatively recent tradition has been an exciting addition to the All-Star Games in the past few years.
The last two years saw Giannis Antetokounmpo (East) and LeBron James (West) being All-Star captains but, this year, Brooklyn Nets' forward Kevin Durant has been installed as captain of the East while LeBron reprises his now familiar role. However, for the second time in three seasons, injuries will prevent Durant from playing in the NBA's annual All-Star Game, but he will remain as captain and participated in the All-Star draft last evening (Thursday, March 4).
Indiana Pacers' forward Domantas Sabonis will replace Durant in the line-up as his left hamstring injury, sustained on February 13, will force him out. Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the 19 games played and was named an NBA All-Star Game starter and team captain, his 11th All-Star selection.
Sabonis has now earned his second-straight NBA All-Star selection. He is averaging a career-high 21.5 points, 11.7 rebounds (fifth in the NBA) and a career-high 5.7 assists in 30 games played this season. He joins NBA All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks as the only players who are averaging at least 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
Four players (Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle, and Zion Williamson) will be making their first All-Star Game appearance, while LeBron James will be making his 17th appearance. That number puts him third all-time, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19) and Kobe Bryant (18).
The line-up of participants in this Sunday activities include the following:
Skills Challenge: Robert Covington (Portland Trail Blazers), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic).
3-Point Contest: Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics).
Dunk Contest: Anfernee Simons (Portland Trail Blazers), Cassius Stanley (Indiana Pacers), Obi Toppin (New York Knicks).
All-Star Game: Along with Lebron James (frontcourt), the Western Conference starting pool includes the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (guard), the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (guard), the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (frontcourt) and the LA Clippers' Kawhi Leonard (frontcourt). In the Eastern Conference, Kevin Durant (frontcourt) is joined in the starting pool by the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (frontcourt), the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal (guard), the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (frontcourt) and the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving (guard).
A record five international players have been voted NBA All-Star Game starters — Antetokounmpo (Greece), Doncic (Slovenia), Embiid (Cameroon), Irving (Australia) and Jokic (Serbia). The previous record was four, which was set last year.
Usually, All-Star Weekend includes fun festivities and lucrative endorsement opportunities for players over several days — not this year. There really won't be any fans in attendance, so the energy and electricity will be dimmed but, with the invited pool of talent, it should still be an entertaining event.
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